The Corridor to the West is Discovered

Until 1846 emigrants to California traveled the Oregon Trail to Fort Bridger, Wyoming, they went northwest to Fort Hall, Idaho, then southwest to the Humbolt River in Nevada, then west across the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and into the Sacramento Valley.

In 1846, a young promoter named Lansford Hastings, traveled from California across the Salt Flats, and around the south end of the Great Salt Lake. He then went up over Big Mountain and down to the present site of Henefer. From there he went on to Fort Bridger. Hastings and his group traveled by mule and horseback on this uncharted route. His goal was to persuade wagon trains of emigrants to travel this new route, "Hastings Cutoff," which was some 200 miles shorter than going by way of Fort Hall route.

Hastings advised the Donner party to take this new shorter route. At Henefer they proceeded west up Main Canyon to Hogsback Summit and on to Little Emigration Canyon. Here they camped for three days as the group of about twenty men cut through timber and moved rocks to make way for the wagons. It took them sixteen days on the 36-mile Henefer-Salt Lake portion of the trail. They also encountered severe difficulties on the Salt Flats. These exhausting and time consuming delays made them weeks late getting into the Sierras, where half of the eight-seven men, women, and children died in a terrible ordeal of cold, starvation, and cannibalism.

In 1847, the "Mormon" Pioneer Company followed the same route used by the Donner party from Fort Bridger to the Salt Lake Valley. At Henefer they found where the Donner Party had gone the year before. From here they proceeded west up Main Canyon to Hogsback Summit. Here the pioneers saw their first view of the majestic Wasatch Mountains. The descent from the summit wasn't very steep, but was extremely dangerous for wagons. The trail was on the side of a hill over large cobble rocks which caused the wagons to slide severely. They traveled on and camped at Dixie Springs. From here they went about one mile up Broad Hollow; then they turned towards East Canyon Creek (currently under the East Canyon Reservoir). Orson Pratt recorded the following: "We followed the dimly traced wagon tracks up this stream for eight miles, crossing the same 13 times. The bottoms of this creek are thickly covered with willows, from 5 to 15 rods wide, making an immense labor in cutting a road through for emigrants last season. We still found the road impassable, and requiring much labor." From there they went to Mormon Flat where they turned up Little Emigration Canyon. Here they prepared for the 4.2-mile climb up Little Emigration Canyon, the longest sustained climb of the entire trail. George Shepard, and early pioneer, made this journal entry: "We now ascended a mountain four miles on a steady pull sometimes on the side hill, sometimes in the crick, and going three or four rods on nothing but stones before we got to the top of the mountain." They reached Pratt's Pass on the shoulder of Big Mountain, the highest mountain crossed in their entire trip.

Another important group to use the pioneer trail through Morgan was the Pony Express. It was established in 1860 and during the eighteen months the Pony Express was in existence two stations were located on this trail through Morgan County, Dixie Creek Station and Bauchman's Station. Another station, Ephriam Hanks, is located near Little Mountain Summit in Salt Lake County. Stations along the entire route were generally ten to fifteen miles apart. The Express recruited eighty riders at an average monthly salary of $50. They rode horses chosen for their speed and endurance. These animals cost $150 to $200 each. A price three to four times the price of an ordinary saddle horse.

At the relay stations the rider was allowed two minutes to change the mochile (mail pouch) from the tired animal to the fresh mount and be on his way. Some of the important messages carried on this trail through Morgan on their route to the West were: President Lincoln's Inaugural Address, news of the attack on Fort Sumter, and reports of the Civil War.

Utah and California are the only two states to contain pristine sections of the original Pony Express Trail. The Express, although short lived, played a major role in the history of the West.

Another group to use the trail was Johnston's Army, who was sent to Utah Territory by U.S. President Buchanan. He dispatched the army in 1857, to control the "rebellious" Mormons. Two fortifications at Mormon Flat were built by the Mormon Militia, under the command of Lt. Gen. Daniel H. Wells. These were located on the two hills commanding the mouth of Little Emigration Canyon. They were known as "Duke Battery" and "Hyde Battery," named after the officers who directed their construction. These constituted the last line of defense, others having been erected in East Canyon and Echo Canyon. The fortifications can still be seen on the two hillsides near Mormon Flat.

Captain Albert Tracy, an officer with Johnston's Army, wrote in his journal: "June 25, 1858--We get off as early as five in the morning, and after a long and toilsome ascent in the course of which we pass additional fortifications of the Mormons, reach at last the bald and rocky crest of 'Big Mountain'."

Hiking the Pioneer Trail from Big Mountain to Mormon Flat (reverse direction than traveled by the pioneers) perhaps is the best way to experience a kinship with those who traveled its path more than 150 years ago.

Watch for the rust on the rocks left by the steel rims of the wagon wheels. In certain areas you can still see the grade of the trail. From the primitiveness of the area it is easy to imagine the struggles that took place on this section of the trail.
You can stop at the campsite where the Donner Party spent three days. take a minute and listen to the sounds surrounding you. Let your imagination go and hear the sounds of the pioneer children playing in the nearby beaver ponds, and the sounds of their fathers' axes further up the canyon cutting trees.

On the two small knolls, one on each side of the entrance of Little Emigration Canyon, you can see the remains of the rock fortifications of Fort Wells. These were built by the Mormon Militia in preparation for Johnston's Army.

From Mormon Flat look to the north where you can still see the trail coming down off the hill and onto the flat.

It is estimated the Pioneer Trail was used by 70,000 travelers in a twenty-year period.

Morgan County has a rich pioneer heritage. This pristine section of the trail is part of that heritage!

Linda H. Smith, County Historian


© 2007 Morgan County Historical Society